Photo of card catalog courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

My high school history teacher never assigned a textbook for his class.

Instead, every day, Mr. David Ulmer would pace back and forth at the front of a room of students, explaining the events of the world in vivid detail as a story.

He would wildly gesticulate when the action got heated or dangerous, use voices to give life to historical figures, and punctuate points with hilarious statements written on the chalkboard.

My classmates and I sat in rapt attention. We tried to take notes. But frankly, it was hard to tear your eyes away from Mr. Ulmer. We didn’t want to miss a single detail.

No one failed tests in Mr. Ulmer’s class. That’s because his method of teaching was storytelling. Everyone remembered the details.

Mr. Ulmer used content marketing as a means of teaching history. Rather than pushing a bunch of facts, figures, and details at us, he made historical events personal, vivid, and memorable by telling stories.

Your library can have that kind of lasting, memorable impact. You only need to integrate content marketing as part of your promotional strategy.  

Now is the time to work stories into your library promotions. You want desperately to break through the noise of life. You want your community to think of your library every time they face a problem. You want them to remember they can come to you for anything they need.

I sometimes wonder if libraries dismiss this idea because stories as marketing sounds childish and unprofessional. The word “story” may also imply that the content is made up.

But, in marketing, we use stories as content because they are true testimonials about how your library has helped your community. They aren’t fiction. They’re told with integrity and clarity. 

 “People think in stories, not statistics, and marketers need to be master storytellers”.

Author, columnist, and businesswoman Arianna Huffington

Here are the four things you need to know to start working content marketing into your library promotions.  

You don’t have to do all the work.

Research by Nielsen shows that 92 percent of people will trust a recommendation from someone they know. When a cardholder talks about the way your library’s collection, programs, and services have impacted their lives, people will listen. Let your community share their story about their experience at the library.

One year at my library, we sent an email to a target group of library users. We asked them to tell us why they loved the library.

We got more than 400 responses! Some people wrote a few sentences, some wrote paragraphs.

That one “ask” was a gold mine for content for more than a year. We contacted many of the responders later to ask them to elaborate on their stories on camera. We used those interviews for fundraising and content marketing. We pulled some of their quotes and had our librarians read them on camera, which we used as content marketing during Library Workers Week and other big events.

We used some of those stories to lay the groundwork for passage of a levy. And we used stories on social media. That drove our organic engagement rates higher and made our other organic posts more effective.

Your community is eager to share testimonials with you. All you have to do is ask.

You can gather stories every day.

Make it a practice at your library to start a conversation with cardholders at a point of service.

Use your own story to begin the conversation. You can share a few sentences about how the library has impacted your life. Or you can talk about why you decided to work in a library.

Sharing you personal story will signal to your patron that it’s okay for them to share their story. And once they have, you can ask them if you might write down the story and share it as content marketing with other patrons. Most people will say yes.

Stories don’t have to be long or complicated.

Your content marketing can be a few sentences, a few paragraphs, or a few pages. There’s no formula for length. If you’re not a confident writer, or your patron feels uncomfortable sharing in detail, you can still create a great content marketing story within a few sentences.

Manitowoc Public Library uses short stories to share the work of their library. Read “Lucy Gets Caught Reading” to see how the librarians turn a photo and few sentences into a compelling story about the power of books in a little girl’s life. This is a great example of how content marketing can share a powerful, emotional message in a brief statement.

Your library can share content marketing everywhere you do promotions.

Start by including one story in each of the places where you normally promote your library.

For instance, if you send a monthly library newsletter, include a story. You don’t have to delete any of the other things you normally promote in your newsletter. But slip a story into the mix.

Tease the story in your subject line to increase your open rates. A story will appeal to a wider audience. Once the subscriber opens your email and reads the story, they’ll be responsive to other promotional content in the email.

If your library has a blog, include at least one cardholder story on your blog every month. Your blog will grow in traffic and subscribers, which is good news for the other content you post.

One of the best places to share content marketing is in a video. Champaign Public Library has a full YouTube playlist of content marketing videos. Their work is a great example of the power of an on-camera interview testimonial.

You can create a newsletter filled with stories. You can create a landing page on your website. You can share stories on your blog, on social media, in your videos, and in your print pieces.

The Brown County Library works content marketing into their Facebook page posting schedule. They’ve even created a hashtag, #WhatsYourLibraryStory to drive engagement.

Content marketing deepens your library’s connection to your community. Are you using it for library promotions? Share your ideas by clicking on the “Feedback” button.


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